Many slaveholders attempted to justify the institution of slavery in the United States by claiming that the practice of slavery was actually in the interests of the slaves themselves. Not only are these arguments invalid because they justify inhumane treatment and the imprisonment of innocent human beings, they also contain a dangerous paternalism (a “speaking for”) that has not vacated the social sphere. Indeed, this same logic—the notion that bodies can be regulated and controlled for their own protection—is presently being used to speak for the fetus in order to justify fetal rights. Borrowing from Berlant (1997), these fetal rights arguments work against the interests of the mother, constituting pregnant women as chattel and reinforcing the governing logics of a fetal and infantile citizenship.

In the spirit of W.E.B. Du Bois, we contend that, “she must have the right of motherhood at her own discretion,” regardless of deployments of fetal citizenship (2007, p. 121). A pregnant woman should have the right to abort the fetus just as those enslaved had and have the right to freedom. Following Koppelman, we note that abortion restrictions result in the involuntary servitude of women to the fetus and effectively impede pregnant women from exercising their right to break a contract with the fetus. Consequently this essay argues that we have the responsibility to defend reproductive freedom based on the concept of prohibiting involuntary servitude.

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Copyright © 2008 Contemporary Argumentation and Debate. This article first appeared in Contemporary Argumentation and Debate 29 (2008), 166-185.

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